One of the most important federal responsibilities is to count the American people and gather data about them every ten years. This process, known as the census, is referred to in the Constitution and is the cornerstone on which extremely important aspects of government are placed, most notably congressional representation and the allocation of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds and services.
Just to give you an idea of how much the census affects our daily lives, just look at how it is projected to change the balance of seats in the House of Representatives. According to Newsweek, New York could easily lose five seats over the next couple censuses, Pennsylvania will lose four, Michigan and Ohio each three, Illinois two and ten other states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, will each lose a seat as well. These lost seats will all come from suburban or rural areas.
What is even more impressive is that California, with its already 54 seats in the House, is poised to gain nine more seats in the same time period. Three other heavily Latino states, Arizona, Texas and Florida, are projected to gain two, five and three seats respectively. Georgia could gain two as well; six other Western states are all expected to each gain an additional congressional representative too. And, the changes do not stop there. An accurate census will shift billions of earmarked federal dollars from suburbs to urban centers, from the east to the west.
Most important, though, the country will have no choice but to recognize (if the census is successful) that we are in the midst of an unprecedented demographic shift to a truly multiracial society that has no ethnic majority. Every scientific projection of the United States population (under normal rates of growth) has pinpointed 2050 as the year when America will no longer have a racial majority.
To me, this is exciting (especially as a Californian, since we’ll have 63 House seats). To many conservatives, however, this is scary. They do not want the census to be successful, because they know what the outcome is going to be: a more racially diverse country with a significant population swing towards the urban poor. They fear that if ethnic minorities (who tend to vote Democrat) are counted, this will cause districts to be redrawn in the Democrats’ favor. Will this happen? Probably. Should it? Yes, because it’s only fair.
In a veiled attempt to stop minorities from being equally represented in the 2000 census, Republicans in Congress have led a vicious campaign against the national headcount. Last year, they rejected a Census Bureau plea to incorporate a method known as “sampling” in this year’s count. Essentially, sampling would have enabled the census to use proven computer technology to count the population. This method would have assured that traditionally undercounted groups, such as immigrants, ethnic minorities and the homeless, would get counted.
Many millions went uncounted in the 1990 census; the Census Bureau estimates that in L.A. County alone, hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities went uncounted, the bulk of them Latino immigrants – this circumstance was repeated in urban areas throughout the United States. Sampling is a better alternative to the manual count, because it would end these types of discrepancies and would ensure that all groups were accurately represented in the official count of the U.S. population. Many countries use sampling in their national headcounts and it has shown itself to be an accurate, reliable, cost-effective and easier method than the antiquated one the GOP Congress forced the census to adopt last year.
Now, even after they severely crippled the census last year, many Republican lawmakers, led by their “compassionate” presidential nominee, are now urging Americans not to fill out their forms. Despite assurances that collected data will not be shared with others, GOP politicians are deceiving the American public by calling the form obtrusive.
They claim that the census form’s questions about housing situation, race and other similar data are an invasion of privacy. Governor George W. Bush suggested that he might not fill out a form himself.
All this, despite the fact that the Census Bureau has promised to not share the personal information with anyone; they refuse even to reveal the illegal immigrants they count to the INS. The Census Bureau has always had this policy and has always followed by it. Also, aware of the American fanaticism with selfish individualism, the Census Bureau made this year’s form significantly shorter (i.e. less intrusive) than the 1990 form.
Filling out the census form is not at an unnecessary intrusion of privacy, it is a constitutional duty. By encouraging Americans to “defy” the Census, GOP elected officials like Bush and Speaker Denis Hastert are betraying their duty as defenders of the constitution.
The census is very important to America; if it’s not done correctly, the consequences will be terribly harmful – our democracy will fall short, because millions will be underrepresented in Congress; and many much-needed billions of dollars will be unfairly distributed. Who will bear the brunt of the burden? Those groups that are traditionally undercounted – the poor, ethnic minorities, immigrants and the young.
Poor communities will not get their fair share of funds for so many services from education to police protection. Even more detrimental to our nation’s health, they will not receive their deserved representation in Congress. Such a misallocation of funds and representation will only exacerbate problems of social justice.
Shame on Republican leaders for trying to disrupt the census – their tactics are harmful to our democracy. They are being unfair, sinister and, frankly, racist.
The Republicans should be trying to vie for the votes of minorities, and not attempt to shut them out of the political process.